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He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. Short Story by R V Raiment

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Copyright 2015 (revised version) by R V Raiment (approx 5000 words)

Auntie Dora seems scarcely to have changed, except that the remembered grey of her hair is white now.  She is still enormous, an almost amorphous blob of warm, generous flesh wedged into an ancient armchair as overstuffed as she is and which supports itself and her on legs that seem too slender for the task.  The eyes behind the vast, milk-bottle-bottom spectacle lenses appear huge, too, their pupils vast black pits of warmth, and as she smiles, a radiant, gentle smile, the endless seams and wrinkles of her face are suddenly betrayed for the laughter lines they are and should not be.

Life has been hard for Dora.  Hers is a smile she can take out at night, deposit in the tumbler at the side of the bed.  And the bountifulness of her body seems an ironic contradiction of what caused it, the decades of hardship whilst Arthur clerked for a poverty rate, the years of poor diet and the continuous reproduction which had made her a great grandma before she was 60.  She’s a great great grandma now.

It is good to see her again and good to hold her hand a moment.  There is always more said between us in brief moments alone, and often without words.  Despite years away, I am immediately at home in the cramped little, always over-laden, house, which seems to me not to have changed in the slightest in all my living memory.

 

There is an under-scent, as always, of cooked food and the nameless aromas which, blended, hang here like ghosts, redolent of the many lives that have begun here and grown to adulthood.  The dent little Sarah made in the door frame when she rode into it on her tricycle decades ago remains there still, rendered shallower by successive coats of paint.

 

The cheap print of Elizabeth II’s coronation photo remains where Arthur hung it back in ’53 and the trio of petrified ducks hang frozen in pursuit of each other across the same stretch of living-room wall.  Around me endless knick-knack shelves still creak under their spectacular Technicolor weight of cheap seaside mementoes: of gilded polystyrene Blackpool Towers, of mermaids and dolphins in plastic spheres of liquid which, when shaken, become blizzards of artificial snow. And never were sea shells displayed in more guises – crudely sculpted into little fat people, cottages and animals, and encrusted on boxes and photograph frames bulging with snapshots of slight, big-eyed children.

“You were always good to Arthur,” Dora says, smiling.

I answer:

“He was always good to me.  Always kind.”

“There’s many wouldn’t say the same”. Memories soften her smile with regret.

It’s true.  They called him “That little bastard” most of the time.  He was little, fair enough, and could be – though he never was to me – a bastard when he was pushed. Yet I never knew a straighter man, nor more generous.

Somehow, when she brought us here as children, my mother always brought us close to dinnertime.  I could never understand that – she had to know that they would insist we ate with them. Arthur especially would brook no refusal, and I would watch as whatever meagre supply they had between them was carefully portioned yet again into equal shares for us.  I would eat with little appetite, conscious that, however unwillingly, I was depriving them.

But one would never know it.  Not from him. Our wealthier aunts and uncles bestowed whatever they bestowed, upon whomever they bestowed it, with fanfares of trumpets and a hungry expectation of manifest gratitude.  As is to be expected, Arthur, never looking for it, received the gratitude they did not.

A hard little man, was Arthur, his right hand stunted and his glasses, so very early in his life, at least as thick as those she was wearing now.  A little man in stature, the butt of jokes since childhood, he was touchy, swift to anger, and raw around the clucking brood of Dora’s sisters and their cocky, strutting little husbands.  A joker, too, and a die-hard sports fan, dedicated to his teams, devoted to his wife.

“I will miss him,” I tell her. I feel his absence, the room a trophy case without its centrepiece, and she nods quietly, then:

“Your mum tells me you’re a writer now?”

Ouch!  I’d had a hard time telling my elderly mother, the youngest of the sisters, and it never occurred to me that she would boast of it. But I don’t deny it, and Dora smiles:

“What kind of stories do you write, James?”

Omitting crucial details, my mother, as always, has left me with the hardest part.  What do I tell this nonagenarian, recently bereaved and rather special lady?  Before I can decide, the question is answered for me.

“James writes erotica, Mum – stories about sex.”

Jesus, Mary!  Not the Catholics’ Mary, that, but Mary, little Mary, who isn’t little any more.  Little Mary who calls Dora mum and always has, although she isn’t, and who used to live next door.

I have always been in love with Mary.  I had thought it, once, a crush, but years of separation in which I saw her in every attractive face I met had taught me otherwise.  I had never been able to discern quite how Mary felt about me, had always been too nervous, around her calm self-confidence, to put the question.

 

Well, not quite always.  Because of the way we lived then, the sprawl of kids we were – my brothers, her brothers and sisters and Dora and Arthur’s own – and the proximity in which we lived, we were part of each other’s discoveries, guinea pigs in first experimental kisses and fondlings, first witnesses to miraculous differences.

 

I don’t think I have ever recovered from that first sight of her, extracted under the duress of a game of dare, my first wakening to the greatest miracle on earth, and as we grew I would hover near her, hoping we would somehow connect, and she would smile and melt me, but the words never came.  I find myself wondering, now, if she felt a fraction of the warmth toward me that I feel upon seeing her again.  She admonishes me gently:

“You missed the funeral, James.”

“I couldn’t help it, I’m afraid.”

She nods, no further explanation sought, and I become aware that Dora is looking at me. Reflected light beaming from the huge lenses of her spectacles transfixes me like a rabbit caught in headlamps.

“Sex stories?”

Oh shit.  I try to meet Mary’s gaze, hoping that she will help deflect the interest she’s created, but Mary only smiles.  And what a smile!  Not the toothy, wreathed-in-freckles-kid-smile that I used to know, and not that straight up, straight down body either.  Slim, yes, and curvy in most wondrous places.  We have both grown up.

“James?”  There is knowing amusement in Dora’s voice, so I surrender.  I am tired, anyway, of being required to justify what I do.

“It’s true, Auntie Dora.  I write adult sexual fiction – and some other things.  I am working on a book of landscapes and I was in the desert, taking photographs, when your news arrived.  That’s why I missed the funeral.”

Dora nods, my un-sought explanation not important.  Her attention still disconcertingly fixed on me, it is not me she addresses:

“Can you get the case, Mary, love?”

Mary, smiling, moves so smoothly to the corner of the room, struggles to lift a battered leather case and, glancing at Dora, walks toward me, lowers it carefully into my lap.  The smile in her eyes way beyond the half-smile on her lips, that sudden, sweet-scented proximity, begins to arouse me.  That’s ridiculous; I focus on the case, unfasten rusty catches.

Inside it is a typewriter.  A fucking typewriter.  And they’re looking at me like I’ve just won the Lottery.  To make it worse, Dora tells me softly:

“I knew Arthur would want you to have this, James.  It meant a lot to him, and so did you.”

Everything I write with is defined by gigs and megahertz, USB and Firewire ports.  Last time I used a typewriter I was maybe 5 years old, playing with a half-wrecked Remington my mom found in a junk shop.  Thing is, this machine is even older.  Big, black and vaguely bug-like, its fascia tells me it is an Oliver Standard Visible Writer, but I have never seen anything like it.  On the battered black enamel of the upper nameplate someone has long-ago stencilled the Imperial German Eagle and a number.  A relic of the First World War, and perhaps not new even then, it belongs in a museum.

“I don’t know what to say…”

Mary’s giggling, Dora smiling broadly.  Dora, squeezing Mary’s hand, explains:

“I don’t expect you to use it, pet – just thought you’d like it as a keepsake.  It’s an antique, a museum piece, and I doubt you’d find a ribbon for it now.”  Then: “I don’t suppose you’ve got one of your stories with you?”

“I’m sorry, Auntie,” I lie, diplomatically; “my laptop’s in the hotel safe.”

“Will you read something else for me?”

“Something else?”  It occurs to me that I don’t ever remember seeing a book in the house.  Newspapers, yes, of the quality that first routinely exposed bare bosoms to the tabloid-reading public, cheap women’s magazines of the type that were always full of romantic fiction, and children’s comic papers.  There’s a full set of Encyclopaedia proudly displayed on a shelf, a score of over-priced volumes Arthur bought long ago from a door-to-door salesman and which, to the best of my knowledge, have never been opened since, but books have never been part of the way of life here and I wonder what she means.  Mary, however, is pulling out a second case from the cupboard in the corner, an old-fashioned leather music case, and sensing what will happen next I lower the heavy typewriter gingerly to the floor.

Mary has unfastened the case but leaves it to me to draw out the sheaf of papers.  The smell of old leather, long trapped inside, is very strong, and dust motes fly up from the typescript in my hand.

The odd-looking characters clearly match the old machine on the floor beside me.  Unevenly and raggedly spaced, in a serif-face with curving tails to every letter, much of it is badly faded, some of the letters only distinguishable by their extremities where the ornately hammered letters retain most ink.  Dora asks me:

“Could you read some of that for me, pet?  I’ve not heard it read in a man’s voice for ages.”

Puzzled as I am, I begin to read the anonymous yellowing sheets:

 

“My lovely girl,

 

Among so many hundreds here I am not alone, can hardly get to be alone, yet I am lonely, and loneliest for the want of you.

 

The days are long, and often hard.  The nights are longest.  All our dark uncertainties return to haunt us then, and knowing nothing of what the future holds it is only the past, and memory, to which a man can turn to sustain himself.  And time after time, I find, it is the same memory to which I return, in which I find warmth and hope.

 

I will not ask if you remember.  I know that you do.  But I wonder if you can know how special that memory is to me, of that first time you walked hand in hand with me up the hill behind Statham’s.  I was so proud.  You looked so beautiful.  I knew that no one who saw us would believe it, that you would pick me, the one they all called the runt of the litter.

I was so nervous.  Your dad opposed me, I know, and your sisters…well, we both know what precious prigs they are. I overheard Frank Taney tell George Parrish, after they’d courted your Peggy and Alice, that it’d be easier to rob the Bank of England – or grow a second knob – than it would be to get anything more than a kiss from a Thompson girl.  All you sisters had such reputations as teases.  I don’t know how I got up the nerve to ask you out.  But I did.  And bugger me if you didn’t say yes.

You remember that walk, how steep, how hot it was?  That’s why it was so quiet, of course.  Normal folk had more sense than to go walking in that heat.  But you were mad keen!

I’d never known a girl like you, nor will I ever know another.

“Let’s go by Barlowe’s Pond,” you said; “and see if the baby ducks are there.”  And I was thinking, ‘Bugger me, if I don’t kiss this girl today I’ll burst, and all she can talk about is bloody ducks!’  I thought everything hinged on that first kiss, that if you hated it you’d never have aught to do with me again, so I was determined to get at least a snog out of you.

All that way uphill in blazing sunshine without complaint, you only grumbled about the heat when we got there.  You insisted we take the path round the pond into the shade of the big old willow and those bushes, behind the island where the ducks were nesting. You sat down on my jacket in the grass, playing with the yellow flowers you’d plucked along the way.  ‘Lesser Celandine’, you said they were, but what would I know?

You said “You want to kiss me, don’t you,” and I answered “Yes, of course!” and you laughed like a kid.  And then you said, “Well… let’s see…” and I wondered what you meant.

That’s when you began your flower game.  You plucked off the petals, one after the other, reciting, “He loves me, He loves me not, He loves me, He loves me not”.  You got to “He loves me” again on the last, fifth petal and you told me: “You love me.  You may kiss me.”

I might’ve thought you were acting a bit mental, but you said I could kiss you so I did.  Only you twisted at the last so that I missed your lips, and you gave me that cheeky little smile.

I wanted you so much, that moment!

Instead you played your game again, plucking petals from a flower half-hidden in your hand.   At the last you held up a petal with the words “He loves me not!” and told me you would not allow me to kiss you again.  I begged for another chance.

I remember that so well.  “No,” you said; “that was a ‘loves-me-not’ and I don’t kiss on a ‘loves-me-not’.  And when I begged and pleaded you eventually said: “I’ll play you again, but only for a forfeit.”

“What d’ye mean?” I asked you.  You said: “I’ll only pluck another flower for a forfeit.  You must give me your shoes and socks.”

Daft as it seemed, I was in no mood to argue over going barefoot on the grass on a hot summer’s day, so I shed my shoes and socks without a second thought.  Then you began your rigmarole again and I won and you offered me your other cheek.  You didn’t dally, though.  You were teasing me still, and your eyes were afire with it.

Then you played again and it came up “He loves me not” again and I lost.

Kissing you, twice, so close to you, twice, breathing the scent of you there among the flowers!  I could’ve ploughed the top field with what was in my pants, and I could think of nought but a full-on kiss!

You told me it’d cost me my shirt to play again.

“Don’t be daft,” I said; “What if someone comes?”  You laughed and told me:
“You can scamper into yonder bushes if you’re frightened.  From behind this screen of willow we’d see anybody coming long afore they would even know we were here.

I could not believe what I now suspected, and what – even then – I could not bring myself to give name to, but I felt a hard knot forming in my belly, my heart begin to pound in my chest.  One of the prim Thompson girls?  There had to be some other explanation. So I took my shirt off like you wanted.  You reached across and touched my chin.  Jesus, lass.  I’m sitting there on the grass with only my pants and britches on, and you’re sitting there like Lady Muck, wreathed in smiles.  And you played again and I lost again and you said you wanted my trousers.

I thought you were joking, but you weren’t.  Played too often for a fool, I told you ‘no’.  I remember your answer, now, so clearly:

“I understand,” you said, “that you don’t trust me, think I’m teasing.  So to make it fairer, we’ll not count that last one, and play the next one for your britches or… for a kiss from me, and my blouse…”

You seemed to mean it, and I guess I knew that if your game ended in your favour I could always refuse again.  But you lost that one. When you finished up “He loves me!” I couldn’t believe it as I watched you slowly unbutton your blouse, fold it up and lay it aside.  Then you leaned over towards me and I could see nought but those glorious golden mounds peeping out of your shift, and before I’d hardly tasted the heat of your lips you’d pulled away again.

You smiled at me.  “A kiss and my skirt,” you said; “against those britches…”

“He loves me not!”

You cannot know how torn I was at that moment twixt doing as you said you wanted and running away, fast as I could.  This was not how it was done, and not by Thompson girls!  And I am sitting there, knowing my shorts, whilst clean, are old and a little shabby, and you chide me for being a ‘cowardy-custard’ and next thing I know I am standing upright, praying that nobody’ll come to see, pulling my britches down to my ankles and doing everything I can to hide the bulge John Thomas is making in my pants.

And you play again and I win, dear God, and you stand and turn your skirt on your waist till the fastening comes to the front, unclasp it, let it fall down round your ankles…

Socks and shoes on, you’re wearing that shift, and nought beneath it that I can see, save for the drawers that come down to your knees.  You kiss me, holding me as far distant as you can, not letting me touch you, sit down and start plucking, and I know what’s at stake.

“He loves me not!”

The sun is still blazing and the insects are buzzing, I can hear water moving, the willow tree whispering, every tiny sound very clear now.  I fancy I can hear the thrum of the dragonfly’s wings, water murmuring over the stones where the spring feeds the pond, and you’re watching so closely as I squirm out of my knickers, step out of them and stand on the grass, stark naked.

“Oh my…” you said, staring at him, your looking alone making him twitch with excitement, and the next move’s a mystery to me till you tell me I’d better be putting my clothes on.  I cannot believe you.  He’s hurting for God’s sake and hard as a fencepost, ribbed and seamed like an ancient tree bough and all crimson and purple.

“One more play,” you say, “for all that you could wish for, against a secret forfeit.”

 

“All I could wish for?”  Do you mean what that sounds like?

 

“ALL you could wish for”

 

Your smile tells me you do.

I lose, of course, again, but there’s a sparkle in your eyes that I adore, and hard and excited, cock heavy and rigid as bronze, I can scarce speak for the lump in my throat.

“You must close your eyes now,” you tell me gently, “till I’m finished, and promise you’ll not move till I’m done.”  Even as I promise the thought arrives to haunt me that this is a mean trick and that the Thompson girls will suddenly appear, to mock and to laugh at me.  But driven by want of you and naked already, it’s too late to back down, and I listen to your reassuring voice telling me “I’m here, pet, I’m still here,” as you move about the place.  It seems to take a while.  Then I hear you saying:

 

“So hot!  I wish we’d brought some ginger ale with us, don’t you?”

 

Red heat behind the closed lids of my eyes, my lips dry and throat parched, and that nothing to do with the sun and everything to do with you, I nod and say yes, teetering slightly in the heat and my blindness.

Then I gasp and I shiver, a jolt of icy liquid exploding in my groin, chilling and drenching my hot, searing knob.  “You promised you’d stand!” you’re reminding me, and I do, as you splash me again and again, but my eyes are wide open and I can see you, too, standing, and naked, our clothes in the bush by the pond where you hid the stone bottle.

Even cold ginger beer can’t quell the ardour in my manhood, now, you have so much inflamed me, and it is clear that you know that, and have no wish to quell me.  To see you naked on your knees there before me, taking him twixt your lips, licking ginger ale with such lascivious relish, taking me full in your mouth without warning so that I almost explode on the instant as your tongue so smoothly, wetly finds me…

 

Again I am teetering, my hands in your hair, clenching to save me from falling into the deep warmth of darkness that seems to engulf me as you so engulf him.  I so want to come and so want not to come, want it not to be over, the hot weight in my balls a delicious dilemma.

Just as I think I can hold back no longer he is swinging in air and you are up and you’re turning, leading me to the bushes that must always be our bushes, and I am trying not to stare at that glorious double bow of arse, that sweeping, perfect curve of thigh, and, as you turn toward me again, at the red brown hair that trickles from your belly button and gathers in that lovely vee below.

You were laughing when I dragged you to the ground, quiescent only so long as my mouth reduced your own to hot, wet silence, and then I tried to mount you and you stayed me.

“No babies, pet, not yet.”

I wanted, then, to cry, from simple frustration and the lovely, giving softness of your gaze, so much compassion.  Your need, then, was no less than mine, your hunger as ravenous, but you were the stronger, and wiser that day.  I read that in those beautiful eyes that afternoon, in the gentle touch you laid upon my shoulder, heard it in your voice when you bade me; “Attend to her, my lovely man, as I attend to him.”   And I did.

However you could know all that you did, I do not know, since the blood you shed our wedding night was as real and true as the vows you made me, but I think so often now of the gentle way you steered me, taking John Thomas into your mouth again and leaving me with only the little lady there to play with.

I’d never seen one this close before, never beheld that wondrous glistening difference from such proximity, never inhaled that marvellous scent so deeply, but I knew full well her purpose, and you were giving him ‘what for’ with your lovely mouth and tongue, so I joined in.  I know you’ve not forgotten that.

You were fit to bite my knob off, then, with that first shock of it, and when I discovered how much you squirmed and writhed when I used my tongue to lap and slither upon her gloriously strange configuration – which I have come to know so well – it was only the wet heat of your mouth on my John Thomas that stopped me from forgetting him quite altogether.

The whole of Bradshaw could’ve found us that afternoon and we’d not have known. The world could have ended.  Nothing in creation existed for me outside of our bucking and squirming and grasping, my nostrils full of the scent of ‘her’ and of the grass crushed under your sweet pink arse, your hairs softly scuffing at my face, both of us sweating and panting and wanting and you suddenly, moltenly gushing. Even as that miraculous wet surging of your own streamed across my mouth and nose I felt your mouth clamp close on me, felt muscles deep in your throat soft-pulling, and knew that I was swallowed.

Jesus, lass.  I had only hoped for a kiss.”

It is very quiet in the little room as I come to the end of that first script, which is held together by a rusting staple.  Mary murmurs, “Wow!” but I don’t know what to say, look to Dora for a clue, find her smiling hugely, weeping gently.

“Arthur wrote this?” I ask.  She nods.

“While he was in the POW camp, after Dunkerque.  After he almost lost his hand.  First he got a pal to write me letters, because Arthur couldn’t write left-handed, and then a Jerry offered him that old typewriter for some ciggies.  He typed some letters, but what’s there he wrote for himself and for afterwards, left our proper names out so no one in the camp who found it might know, all of it typed one key at a time.

He read them to me when he came home – and when we’d time to read – but then they got put by and forgotten.  It’s only recently I found them again, and I can’t read them easily myself.”

*   *   *

“She’s really grateful, you know,” Mary tells me later as she escorts me and the ancient typewriter to my car.

 

“I must admit I am as surprised that Arthur could write like that as I am that they could act like that so many years ago.  Literacy and rampant sexuality are not things I would immediately have associated with Dora and Arthur.”

 

Mary grins:

“Life, and people, are full of surprises.  Dora told me long ago about Arthur’s writing. Not his prison camp stuff – she kept that secret until she found the case again a few weeks ago – but Arthur always wanted to be a writer.”

 

“But he didn’t read!”

 

“He did, James.  But reading and writing were his secret vices – things not of his class, not then.  Most of the lads he grew up with would’ve laughed him to scorn if he’d admitted he wanted to be an author and …”

 

“He was already subject to ridicule enough?  Poor Arthur.”

 

Suddenly she says: “I’ve missed you so very much, James!” and leans across and kisses me.  “You’re not hurrying away, are you?”

“Not,” I answer, “if there are kisses like that to be had.”

That smile.

“If it’s sunny tomorrow,” she says, gazing into my eyes, “I could take you up to Barlowe’s Pond and play a game.  We’ll make the flowers buttercups, just like Dora did – five petals on every one.  And, knowing that, James, I promise you, I’ll cheat you naked, just like she did Arthur.”

 

I can read in her eyes that she means it and I am melting in the softness of her gaze even as my cock stirs to new hardness, as I begin to ache for Mary in a way I never really have before.

 

Leaning in to meet her, to kiss her long and deep as I have wanted all my life, the fleeting thought skims and bounces on the calm water of my consciousness that somewhere around these parts they are bound to sell, still, ginger beer in stone bottles.

Copyright 2015 (revised version) by R V Raiment (approx 5000 words)

Image attribution: By Royalbroil (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Recalled to Life

One of my all-time favourite books, Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ begins with the four chapters of ‘Book The First: Recalled to Life’. In this book the ageing Dr Manette is discovered, during the French Revolution and after many years in prison, still alive and under the protection of a former servant. Manette is an almost broken man, a man who has known a ‘living death’ and is ‘recalled to life’ to become a key figure in one of the greatest and most engrossing dramas ever constructed by a novelist.

The phrase has always been of powerful significance to me. Indeed, for reasons I won’t go into here, the book has always been of powerful significance to me. It remains so, and for good reason.

It is I, now, who am ‘Recalled to Life’.

R V Raiment, or Richard V Raiment, was an author I used to know, a regular contributor to the Erotica Readers and Writers Association discussion lists, his stories regularly featured in the same Association’s public pages, his critiques sought by other writers. He had a book published by a fine, small publishing house whose editors loved his work, and almost a decade later had another published, following the publication in anthologies and on-line of a number of short stories.

 

R V Raiment learned to accept too little as enough, incarcerated himself in a Bastille built of low expectation. Today he freed himself. Today he is Recalled to Life. Today he decided that the ‘day job’ -responsible and significant to others as it is, as valuable as it is in terms of regularity of income – is simply not enough.

Today I, Richard V Raiment, decided to commit to full-time writing, to fly on the wings of an eagle or to starve in a garret according to the fall of the dice.

R V Raiment, whom I used to know, is alive again, and free.

It is R V Raiment who broke his manacles today, but it was not without significant help. Those who had chipped away at his irons, who have helped prepare him for this day, include the writers I G Frederick (Korin Dushayl),  Nya Rawlins and Terrance Aldon Shaw. To them I am profoundly grateful.

Acknowledgements made, watch this space.